The number of internet users in South Africa accelerated dramatically over the past year, driven by mobile phones, as the internet "finally arrived in the hands of the mass market", according to the latest Internet Access in South Africa study.
This is the key finding of the Internet Access in South Africa 2012 study conducted by consultancy World Wide Worx.
The headline findings, released last week, showed that the South African Internet user base had grown from 6.8-million in 2010 to 8.5-million at the end of 2011 - no less than 25% growth.
World Wide Worx forecast that this strong growth would continue during 2012, taking South Africa's internet user base past the 10-million mark by the end of the year.
Demand for online content 'set to explode'
"These findings are a powerful signal that the demand for online content in South Africa is likely to explode in the coming years," said Justin Zehmke, executive producer of howzit MSN, which backed the study.
"The spotlight will not only be on online media, but also on social networking and electronic services in genera," Zehmke said in a statement.
"As the market grows and matures, we are likely to see a diversification in the landscape that will create space for successful niche media, a greater choice in information sources and a maturation of online services."
World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck said the internet in South Africa had "finally awoken, fully. Penetration is now approaching 20%, and for the first time we can see the mass market embracing digital tools on their phones."
According to the survey, 7.9-million South Africans access the internet on their mobile phones. Of these, 2.48-million access it only on their cellphones, and do not have access on computers. The remaining 6.02-million users access the internet on computers, laptops, and tablet computers.
However, 90% of this number - 5.42-million - also access it on their cellphones. This means that almost 8-million South Africans sometimes or regularly access the internet on their phones.
'Huge implications for media, social networks'
"This has huge implications for media and social networks," says Zehmke. "It means that, in the coming years, all services offered online will also have to be offered on cellphones."
While smartphones are the main driver of internet growth, the cost of data use is being driven down by the proliferation of undersea cables connecting sub-Saharan Africa to the rest of the world.
The study shows that undersea cable capacity to South Africa at the end of 2011 was 2.69 Terabits per second (Tbps), and due to rise to 11.9Tbps by the end of 2012.
"That capacity will double again in 2013," said Goldstuck. "While the industry position is that it won't affect prices, such an excess of supply must result in falling prices, which in turn will further drive up demand. The rapid growth we see this year will therefore be maintained through 2013."
The Internet Access in South Africa 2012 study was conducted using multiple methodologies, including primary research, interviews with providers, and market intelligence.
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